Dead man faces corruption trial
Russia has set a date for the trial of a dead lawyer in the latest twist in a case that has become a byword for the country's rampant corruption.
The posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky has already provoked outrage among rights groups who see the whistleblower's case as indicative of the rampant judicial abuse, skyrocketing graft, and blurred boundaries between the state and organised crime that have plagued Russia under president Vladimir Putin.
"The trial of a deceased person and the forcible involvement of his relatives is a dangerous precedent that would open a whole new chapter in Russia's worsening human rights record," Amnesty International said.
Prosecutors accuse Mr Magnitsky and his former client, London-based investor William Browder, of a 230 million dollar tax fraud carried out through subsidiaries of Mr Browder's company, Hermitage Capital Management.
Mr Magnitsky claimed in 2008 that the fraud was committed by an organised crime group who colluded with corrupt Interior Ministry to register themselves as the owners of three Hermitage subsidiaries, and then claim a tax rebate. He was arrested shortly after by the same officials and accused of stealing the money himself.
A year later, the 37-year-old died in jail of pancreatitis, after what supporters claim was a systematic torture campaign. A report by Russia's presidential human rights council found in July 2011 that he had been repeatedly beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment.
"If they have the same investigators and judges try the case, then what are they going to say - 'we're guilty and we should be punished?' It's obvious what's going to happen," his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya said.
Russia's top court ruled shortly after Mr Magnitsky's death that posthumous trials were allowed, with the intention of allowing relatives to clear their loved ones' names. Although neither Mr Magnitsky's relatives nor Mr Browder say they asked for charges to be refiled, prosecutors reopened his case just days after the ruling.
A Moscow court on has set preliminary hearings in the case for February 18. Mr Browder is being tried in absentia; he has not been to Russia since he was banned from entering the country in 2005.
"To try a dead man is beyond evil," he said. "This is a politically directed prosecution - Putin and (prime minister Dmitry) Medvedev have both directed, have sent the instructions for the outcome of this case."